The Darwinian Extension: CompletionHylton Smith / Science Fiction
The Darwinian Extension: Completion
Copyright2010 by Hylton H. Smith
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters and incidents are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
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The continued patience and support of Rhys J Smith and Anne Flint are an essential part of the entire trilogy
Roberto Xiang’s funeral marked the beginning of the end of an era. It was attended by all of the astronauts who had been involved in the missions to Mars over which he had presided as Controller, and later as the Chief Executive of the Council for Human Exploration. His passing had hit Daniel Carvalho every bit as hard as it did his own family. During the memorial service, Carvalho reflected on just how much Xiang had influenced his career and indeed his life.
They had first met during the selection and training for the first manned mission on Copernicus. They had crossed swords initially because of his immaturity and naivety, but Commander Magnusson and Xiang had found the right balance of tolerance and discipline which brought out the best in him. Daniel recalled the unilateral act by Roberto in appropriating a pod to travel to meet Copernicus, with water to save the lives of the crew. He then ‘became’ the father figure Daniel had been deprived of when his real father perished in an air disaster.
In subsequent Mars missions Carvalho quietly gravitated to the senior presence of the Martian colony. He owed most of this ascension to his relationship with Xiang, in the way they were able to deal with rifts in the developing rationale, to steer the up-scaling of the colonisation. It was however a mutually beneficial bridge, Xiang was assisted on several occasions by Carvalho in overturning the conventional Terran wisdom.
This had ultimately led to Carvalho to negotiate a charter of independent citizenship for Martians. This was achievable because some of the Martians were non-human. The Continuance had been discovered on the original Copernicus mission and had become essential developers of the Martian terraforming advance. The Axis had lived on Mars for three thousand years, almost three million years ago. During that period they had observed evolution on Earth but maintained a policy of non-interference. They had built phenomenally sophisticated nuclear energy plants, manufacturing infrastructure and raw material extraction facilities. They had been driven away from Mars by a massive assault from Legionella bacteria. Having settled at an underground habitat on Europa, they kept a vigil on Earth life and maintained their Martian legacy until humanity discovered it. They then visited the now red and green planet to meet the species which had crawled out of the primordial soup they had observed.
The advanced intelligence of both the Continuance and the Axis had worried Earth politicians for a number of years, especially as Carvalho had invited the Axis to return to live on Mars. However this fear was eventually replaced by dependence on their continued help in driving back the ecological damage Earth had inflicted upon itself. The Martian society had demonstrated the multicultural harmony that Earth had only talked about. Ratification of the charter was the crowning achievement of Xiang and Carvalho in their long association. Carvalho could not hold back his emotions any longer. He welled up and visibly convulsed as tears flowed uncontrollably. Nobody had witnessed this side of his character before and they were confused, concerned and sympathetic in equal measure.
This special relationship must have figured in the offer to Carvalho of continuing the work as Xiang’s successor. Carvalho knew this, and he also knew his now departed friend would understand why he refused. He sidestepped the honour by convincing the faceless ones that he had a lot more to achieve off-world.
Although the Earth’s trust had been won by obtaining Martian technology and guidance, one area of trepidation still existed.
The accounts of the Axis inheritance of interstellar travel, courtesy of the Continuance, illustrated how it backfired spectacularly, and struck fear into Earth’s governing elite. This was not however, the most significant hurdle to overcome. The Axis had also related a division in their ranks, with regard to deliberate modification of their physiology, in order to withstand the rigours of interstellar flight. This issue had been debated before the disaster inflicted by the spatial distortion which opened the wormhole. Four million perished on their home planet Nexus.
Subsequently they agreed to ban all such manipulation of cosmic forces. Groups of them, having arrived at three separate exits from the wormhole renewed communication. It reinforced this directive, and also declared that the alteration of their physiology should no longer be required. Their citizens had a free choice, to continue replenishment and live in perpetuity, or allow mortality to prevail after about 555 Earth years.
The unease which had already existed on Earth was now underpinned by a species which had ‘been there and done it’. The issues were complex. Replacement of organs such as hearts, livers, cornea, kidneys etc. also had their detractors back in the twentieth century. Compassion for the suffering individuals had ultimately won through, helped by organ donor involvement. When the first brain, developed under the guidance of Alex 2, was available, a similar outcry surfaced. The additional complication was that a different person was being created. Alex 2 was the first generation replicant of Alex Redgrave – the science officer on the first Copernicus mission.
The replication occurred when red Martian crystals, nicknamed Scarlet O’Hara, switched to an amorphous form and accidently penetrated Redgrave’s skin and then his bloodstream. These crystals had been prised from West Candor chasm, or as it became known – Pandora’s Rift. The Cosmos had been seeded with these crystals billions of years ago and the Martian source had, because of the extreme cold, ‘hibernated’ for almost as long as the planet had existed. The warmer lab conditions had triggered a return to the active amorphous form and it had sought out a host which offered ‘data’ in abundance. The Continuance, as the species was known, replicated life forms as data cells rather than biological types. Being virtually exclusively inorganic, they had immense strength, immunity to radiation and no requirement for nutrients or breathable atmosphere. Their programming was simply to encourage and assist promising species. They were programmed by the Progenitors, highly sophisticated entities, residing in and controlling dark matter. Further replications could occur by design or accident, and with other species.
As a member of the Continuance, Alex 2, at that time, was still earning trust from the human race and this was to delay such transplants for several years. Resistance was eventually eroded and indeed helped by the new brain being artificial, and being capable of inheriting much of the memory of the outgoing defective one. This was something Alex 2 had predicted at the height of the resistance and it had been totally ignored. The remaining moral hang-up was not about the other modifications to rid the species of the need for digestion, waste management, oxygen dependency or temperature resistance. It was very simply put as the redundancy of procreation as we know it.
The Axis contributed to the debate, by revealing that the reason for trying to leave Nexus was instability in the orbits of three gas giants around one of the 55 Cancri stars. The impending cataclysm was preceded by increased radiation rendering the species sterile. While this made the initial decision to transform their biology to a primarily inorganic structure an easy one, time had altered that view for many of them. Their contrived procreative substitute was to sequentially replace the brain (artificial sphere in their case) then the carcass. This mimicked a new generation but the core memory had to be transferred. They concluded that although it was a technical achievement of the highest order, it did not deliver lasting satisfaction.
Having decided to terminate, many had now changed their minds since meeting humans. A sense of purpose had offered a timeout.
Earth objections finally rested on this single point of procreation. It embodied moral, religious and non-religious need for ‘belonging’, and this craving for purpose.
For Alex 2, purpose was difficult to grasp in this context. He was an agent of the Progenitors, the life form residing in dark matter. Their struggle was with balance in the cosmos, particularly with dark energy. A see-saw of gravitational tug-of-war with accelerating expansion had to be maintained rather than won. Winning in this case would be losing, as neither victor would be accompanied by a favourable outcome. Alex 2’s point was that if the big bang was an accident rather than a masterpiece of design, then it was difficult to ascribe purpose to anything, let alone something as insignificant as deliberate mutation.
He had, in pursuing this line of reasoning, for once, assisted the opposition by being asked why he supported the ‘purpose’ of the Progenitors. The Earth discomfort was echoed by the Axis. The debate would not go away. Humanity also felt it had the dimension of time, unlike the Axis, to give appropriate respect to a departure of this magnitude for the species. It was for this reason that Daniel Carvalho knew that his dear friend Roberto Xiang would have endorsed his decision to remain a Martian.